By Scott Costen
VENEZUELAN foreign affairs minister Jorge Arreaza remembers when his country was on much better terms with Canada.
“The diplomatic relationship between Venezuela and Canada, historically, was pretty smooth and stable,” he said during an August 20 video conference organized by the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute.
Relations between the two countries remained strong for many years, he said, even after the Bolivarian Revolution brought in sweeping socialist reforms beginning in 1999.
“We had many business exchanges for Canadian investment in Venezuela,” he said. “It was a better time for our relationship.”
After years of relative harmony, the two countries found themselves pitted against one another following Donald Trump’s unexpected election as U.S. president in 2016.
“There was a radical change of attitude, of behaviour, from the Canadian government against the Venezuelan government,” he said. “Canada began to be in the front line in the aggression against Venezuela.”
The main reason for this growing hostility, Arreaza said, is the Canadian government’s desire to placate the United States after ruffling its feathers on issues such as North American free trade and the global response to the climate crisis.
“We also must say that there is a second reason, or motivation, that produces this aggression from Canada against Venezuela,” he claimed. “It is related to the oil interest, these big companies in Alberta.”
The Canadian government’s change of heart on Venezuela is part of a broader agenda to remove President Nicolás Maduro from office and impose “corporate imperialism,” he said.
Canada is one of the most vocal members of the Lima Group, which was formed in 2017 and has repeatedly endorsed self-declared president Juan Guaidó.
Arreaza sees the body as a thinly disguised proxy for the United States and a source of unjustified interference in Venezuela’s internal affairs.
“[Mike] Pompeo tells them what to do,” he said of the organization and the U.S. Secretary of State.
In a statement to Redaction Politics, Global Affairs Canada did not respond directly to Arreaza’s claims about Americans controlling the Lima Group or Canadian oil interests influencing foreign policy.
“Canada is firmly committed to working through the Lima Group to address the situation in Venezuela, supporting efforts toward a peaceful return to democracy, protection of human rights and rule of law,” the statement said.
“Canada has been actively working to strengthen the collaboration of the international community on our shared goal of seeing the return to democracy in Venezuela through a political process leading to free and fair elections, as soon as possible.”
In addition to its role within the Lima Group, Canada has imposed sanctions on dozens of prominent Venezuelans, including Arreaza.
“Why? I have no idea,” he said. “Canada has sanctioned more Venezuelan officials than the U.S. government.”
Canada further inflamed the situation by preventing Venezuelan expatriates from voting in the May 2018 presidential elections, he said. “The only Venezuelans in the world who didn’t have the right to vote were the Venezuelans in Canada.”
According to a 2019 study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, American economic sanctions on Venezuela “inflicted, and increasingly inflict, very serious harm to human life and health, including an estimated more than 40,000 deaths from 2017-2018.”
Those sanctions “would fit the definition of collective punishment of the civilian population as described in both the Geneva and Hague international conventions,” the report said.
International sanctions and depressed oil prices helped cause an economic crisis that has led to significant outmigration from the South American country.
“In the past, Venezuela hosted thousands of refugees from the region and other parts of the world,” the United Nations refugee agency says on its website. “Now the number of Venezuelans compelled to leave their homes continues to increase, and a significant number of them are in need of international protection.”
More than four million Venezuelans are thought to have become either migrants or refugees in recent years.
In its statement to Redaction Politics, Global Affairs Canada focused primarily on democratic concerns.
“Canada strongly condemns the systematic attacks by the illegitimate Maduro regime against Venezuela’s democracy and people through its attempts to undermine Venezuela’s democratic institutions and democratic opposition,” it said.
“These attacks have only increased leading up to the legislative elections scheduled to take place before the end of 2020, as per Venezuela’s constitution. “
Arreaza, who frequently held up a copy of the Venezuelan constitution during his remarks, rejected the Canadian government’s altruistic depiction of its stance on Venezuela.
“If they really want to defend the Venezuelans’ human rights, then they should stop sanctioning Venezuelans and they should stop supporting the sanctions and the blockade that the United States has imposed (on) the Venezuelan people,” he said.
“Let us follow our own path,” he said. “That is all that we want.”
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